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Cautious Optimism, Uncertainty at Marin Forum on Immigration

The TRUST Act is aimed at improving relations between undocumented immigrants and the police. But with unclear guidelines and many exceptions, some worry about how effective the law will be

Attendees at the TRUST Act community forum held Tuesday at the Marin Civic Center listen to speakers. Photo: Brent Ainsworth
Attendees at the TRUST Act community forum held Tuesday at the Marin Civic Center listen to speakers. Photo: Brent Ainsworth

Published Wednesday 1am

By Karina Ioffee

More than 1 million people have been deported from the United States since 2008, a number higher than at any other time in the country's history.

California has borne the biggest brunt of the trend, where over 100,000 people have been deported over the past five years. 

In response, Governor Jerry Brown passed The TRUST Act earlier this year, aimed at limiting collaboration between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement. The goal is to deport only the most violent criminals, while showing law abiding undocumented Latinos that they don't have to fear the police.

On Tuesday, local attorneys, immigration advocates and county representatives gathered at the Marin Civic Center to learn about the new legislation that goes into effect January 1.

The TRUST Act has many aspects, but in a nutshell it prevents local jails from placing undocumented people on so-called "immigration holds" if they:

  • have no criminal record, 
  • post bail,
  • have their charges dropped. 

Even when charged with a serious or violent felony, the TRUST Act specifies that suspects must be allowed to post bail until convicted.

The idea is to apply the same standard for all people regardless their legal status: innocent until proven guilty.

"In no other area of law are you able to hold someone without probable cause," said Angie Junck, a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco and one of the speakers at Tuesday's forum. "But in the immigration sector, this is only realm where people are being held 48 hours longer than they would otherwise be held without probable cause."

Sheriff Robert Doyle, who opposed the TRUST Act, as did the California State Sheriff's Association, said his office would comply with the new law.

Even now, Doyle said the Marin County Jail places only the most criminal offenders on immigration holds, which allows them to be picked up by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and eventually deported back to their home countries.

"If you look at the numbers, ICE has only deported about 250 people from the Marin County Jail over the past four years," Doyle said. "We've only put holds on those they (ICE) were interested in, serious violators…We're not holding people just because they don't have a driver's license or were operating a vehicle illegally. There's a lot of people being held because they've victimized people in their own community. So I think we've been very judicious about that."

Despite the new law, federal immigration officials will still be able to come into the county jail and have access to information about inmates, including their release date, which is publicly available, he said. 

"I've always cooperated with Secure Communities (a federal program that screens Department of Justice data with immigration records in an attempt to weed out criminals) and to the extent it's permissible, that what the policy will be," he said.

Asked if he would release someone arrested for a violent felony who posted bail, Doyle said he would not, raising eyebrows among some who say that violates the new law.

"I think Sheriff Doyle needs to study the law a bit more," said one immigration attorney, who declined to go on the record criticizing Marin County's top law enforcement official.

Marin County Attorney General Edward Berberian admitted the new legislation is complex and would take time to understand. 

"It's not clear about what can be a prohibited act; It's not going to be easy for a deputy to make a decision on the fly in the middle of the night," he said.

And therein the problem.

Junck, the immigration attorney, worries that because the new law is so convoluted, it does little to encourage trust in the Latino community, already suspicious of cooperating with the police in any way for fear of being deported.

"The bigger question for the community is when you have a law that has so many exceptions, how do you know when you're going to be turned over to ICE? I think the clearest message is one that is black and white. Either 'We work with ICE' or 'We don't work with ICE'. Until we get to 'We don't work with ICE, we need to need to continue improving trust between law enforcement and the community."

One speaker at Tuesday's meeting asked about what would happen to a man arrested for domestic violence, even if his partner didn't want to press charges. Would he be deported? Potentially, said Berberian, because the District Attorney would weigh the evidence in the case and decide whether to press charges, regardless of what the victim wanted.

That didn't sit well with Hilda Castillo, a member of the Marin Organizing Committee, a coalition of churches and synagogues that supports sensible immigration laws.

"If we're talking about using discretion, it will always be on the side of law enforcement," she said. "If the law is not clear, how will it be implemented in the field? How can it possibly be fair?"

But she also wanted to be optimistic. 

"I really do hope that things change with this law and people feel more comfortable and won't be so afraid to report crime. And that they will be able to collaborate."

What do you think? Is the TRUST Act is a good step toward reducing the number of people deported? Waste of time? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Bob December 04, 2013 at 10:53 AM
"The goal is to deport only the most violent criminals". So I guess if you are a drug pusher, a burglar, a vandal, etc., you are a good enough citizen to live here illegally !!! And I suppose these crimes are not bad enough to stop illegal immigrant criminals from becoming citizens. Don't we already have enough legal citizens that are criminals?
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 04, 2013 at 11:57 AM
Lies. More lies. The un-TRUST Act provides that even illegal aliens with prior serious felony convictions will be allowed to disappear back into the grey economy. Why don't you invite Armando Gil to attend. Oh he is serving life for two counts of attempted murder. Prior serious violent felony, reduced to misdemeanor, changed plea for time served, about 100 days. Back to Mexico before he could be arrested for sex with a minor ( I recall under 14 years old, may be incorrect on age). Came back. Shot another gang member who is now a paraplegic and even though illegal alien will live in the US on US medical and support welfare for the rest of his life. Yeah, every citizen wished that he would get "have no criminal record, post bail, have their charges dropped. " Any illegal alien who is willing to break the law by coming here illegally will rationalize that he/she can break any other law to provide a "better life" for themselves and their family.
Roger December 04, 2013 at 12:55 PM
Jerome: Yes, "disappearing into the gray economy" is the problem. If these illegal immigrants want equal justice, then also give me a way to bring them into small claims court when they rear end my car on 101, get cited, and yet pay nothing.
Sharon Moretti December 04, 2013 at 11:49 PM
"Rule of law" formed the foundation of this country and for ​200 years we could trust​ that laws would be enforced​. But no more. Now money - big money - is the new foundation of the country. The Chamber of Commerce, the many Hispanic lobbies, big agriculture, construction, retail, service industries, have colluded to created the ​Rule of Corruption. ​Buy a politician. Buy a governor. Replace law with Orwellian speak: Call a law that upends all trust in enforcement The Trust Act. What is the "Rule of Law" that pertains to people who enter the country illegally? Deportation. They don't have to commit another crime to be deported, they just have to be here. Our federal immigration laws have not been amended. Not been altered. Not been changed. We The People, the citizens, the legal immigrants, have the right of protection under the Federal constitution, and California's "Trust Act" violates the US Constitution and our rights. It must be overturned.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 05, 2013 at 12:39 AM
LBJ did change the immigration law. He abolished the quota system by which each year Congress would allow a specific number of immigrants from each country in the world. After LBJ, anything goes. The Rule of Law was also changed. Prior to LBJ, a person born outside of the US and being present in the US had the burden of proving that he/she had a right to be here. LBJ, and the Congress under him, changed the Rule of Law so that a person born outside of the US and found to be here had the presumption that he/she had a right to be here and the government attorneys had to prove in court that the person did not have a right to be here, any right, any excuse, any country.
don honda December 07, 2013 at 05:56 PM
See how the lenient policy towards Secure Comm backfired in Santa Clara county and released dangerous violent Illegal Alien criminals back into the community to commit more high felony crimes: http://peninsulapress.com/2013/03/20/santa-clara-county-to-review-immigration-policy-that-became-nationwide-model/
Sharon Moretti December 07, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Sonoma has been a "sanctuary" county since 2011. Those elected to protect We the People voted it in because the country was over-run with illegal aliens and contacting ICE every time one was arrested was too much paperwork. Look at the police 'most wanted' lists and you'll see that 90% are Hispanic males who have fled to, it's believed, Mexico. Of course! And why not? Our politicians, owned by the lobbyists, have created wide swaths of our state where an illegal alien can run and hide without fear of being caught. This is no longer a state or a country based on laws. Shame on us who voted these corrupt individuals into office. We have been invaded and now we are occupied. That is our new reality.

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